Athletes and coaches benefit from marathon weekend

The second Performance Group Athlete and Coach Marathon Weekend held as part of the development programme for the event has been held. As well as training sessions in the Forest of Dean the weekend included talks from physiologist Prof Andy Jones covering his work on the Breaking2 project and with elite athletes such as Paula Radcliffe, London Marathon winner 2:09 marathoner Mike Gratton, and performance and clinical dietician Renee McGregor, who drew on her experiences with elite athletes to talk about marathon nutrition and hydration strategies, as well as issues such as Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport.

Also at the weekend along with Marathon Programme lead Nick Anderson were Tom Craggs who presented with Nick on ‘Performance Under Pressure’ and England Athletics Head of Coaching and Athlete Development Martin Rush who spoke about future opportunities and discussed with the group what racing and developmental opportunities they felt would be beneficial.

Nick commented, “It was fantastic that we could add the superb expertise and experience that Andy Jones, Renee McGregor and Mike Gratton bring to the event along with some of the more familiar faces people already knew from December.

“It is superb to enable people to draw on the knowledge from the latest thinking and research, but also the heritage and understanding of the distance running scene that we have from people like Mike.

“The last weekend built a great sense of community, openness, idea sharing and mutual support and this was evident and developed further through this weekend. That was reflected in the way that many of the sessions saw some excellent interactions with the presenters, and the guest speakers really appreciated that openness from the group to take on and discuss new ideas, ask really pertinent questions and develop their thinking.

“Throughout the weekend people in the group were taking every opportunity to discuss training and racing, share their own perspectives, experiences and ideas. Among the coaches we had there with their athletes was Conrad Milton and many people took the chance to chat to him and draw on his wealth of experience in working with elite athletes, of course, including Mo Farah.

“What also came across with Mike was how much he loves running, and that striving to improve is something we can take a huge amount of enjoyment from.”

To find out more about the coach and athlete development opportunities that are coming up please see

Some of what they said:

Performance under pressure

“Fear and excitement are two sides of the same knife edge – you have to make sure you are channelling that nervous energy into a positive performance.”

“You have job, families, and other important life considerations to take on every day. Running shouldn’t be the thing that causes you the biggest stress in your life. We have made a choice, this is something we enjoy and something we have chosen to do.”

“Those who train with their heads but race with their brains are the ones who tend to perform the best.”

Breaking2 and the physiology of the marathon

Speaking of about the relevance of Breaking2 research: “It applies to breaking 2:00, 2:10, 2:20, 2:30 or 2:40. The numbers might be a bit different but the requirements are very similar.”

“We have to control the controllables, there are certain things we can do and things we can’t.

Andy introduced the concept of an athlete’s critical speed (and critical power) and how it could be measured and improved. This is a measure based on an athlete’s competitive performances rather than physiological testing. He went through what happens to an athlete’s physiological attributes such as running economy as they fatigue over the marathon distance.

Andy shared some information about the training of Eluid Kipchoge and others and said of endurance training: “The key thing is consistency – daily, weekly, monthly, yearly consistency. Week after week, month after month, year after year.

“The way to improve your running economy is to be really consistent.”

Andy presented on how and why taking carbohydrates during a marathon can improve performance and ways of making this more effective – such as looking at taking smaller amounts of carbohydrate more often: “You need to practice getting carbohydrates in during training. You need to train your guts.”

Andy on the need to train hard but also to balance this with adequate recovery. “They [Kenyans] train hard but recover incredibly well.”

Marathon Nutrition & Hydration - Performance Strategies

“The bottom line is it is about making the appropriate choices for you and your training.”

“Preparation for race day has to be about optimising you. Food is not rocket science. Food is about meeting your requirements. That means understanding your body, your training, and your requirements.”

“You have to be looking at your training week and how you will make sure you will have good glycogen levels. “How do I make this happen?’”

On how nutrition also impacts on mindset, “If you are tired motivation falls.”

“If you haven’t replenished [glycogen stores] you will find the training even harder than it needs to be. It can take your body 48 to 72 hours to replenish glycogen stores. If you are slow [at refuelling] it can take even longer.”

Renee highlighted how athletes need sufficient energy for performance, to prevent fatigue, to allow a consistent performance level and for their immune systems. She spoke about how to address these needs.

“As you get beyond steady running carbohydrate is really, really, really important. You need to be thinking about it 24 hours before [training].”

“Practice nutrition. Train your gut. Practice your nutrition strategy.”

Renee spoke about the need to practice taking gels at race pace, that the flow of blood to your guts is different at this speed and that, hydration levels also have an impact. She spoke about, and led a discussion about RED-S as well as other topics such as carb loading strategies.

Interview & Q&A: Mike Gratton 1983 London Marathon Winner & Commonwealth Games Bronze Medallist

On enjoying running, “There’s no sacrifice in running two hours a day.”

“The time [2:09:43] means more now because people look back and see the time, and see the standard and its still up there.

Mike talked through the evolution of his training with his club mates where 100 miles a week was typical. He also trained in Brighton with a group including Steve Ovett and Matt Patterson and was running up to 140 miles a week: “I spoke to Cliff Temple, who became my coach, and he said I was doing too much mileage too fast.” Cliff changed this to 125 miles per week and the 15 miles less made a big difference. His next race was a 2:13.

“I started to work things out myself and what worked for me. It’s nice to know Kipchoge is doing what I was doing – but faster.”

“The marathon is an endurance event. You need the endurance. It takes two or three years to have a real effect and to figure out what works for you. You have to work it out yourself. If you have got a smart coach they will work it out with you, but not for you.”

“It takes time to move from 10K to marathon.

“Every time I took a step forward I believed I could go faster. In my mind I knew what the possibilities were. You have got to work it out in stages, each time you get to a new level you think about the next level.”

On the club and racing culture of the 1980s, “You have to be pragmatic and not expect to run well every weekend.”

On the benefit of racing your rivals regularly “You are running against people who are very good runners themselves so it gives you a level of expectation. I thought ‘I can do it’. You felt that you were as good as them and you were all performing at that level. Beating your peer group is an important step.”

On the three most important things for a marathon runner - mileage, self-belief, and nutrition.

“I improved when I became a teacher as it gave me structure.” Even when went full time trained with other people who were working.

Mike also told stories of how his car ended up being clamped while he was at the post-race events after winning the London Marathon leaving him trying to get to media interviews with his car in the pound, and being sent lots of product by event sponsors Mars.

On club culture, “I’m hoping it is going full circle. There is a bit more of a club culture now. Its kind of coming around again.”